Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Learning about Mao Zedong & the Cultural Revolution Through Books

The 20th century in China has seen a lot of turmoil and change: the end to 2000 years of imperial China, the beginning of the Republic of China, the Japanese invasion, civil war, and the Communist Revolution in 1949. Under Mao Zedong's leadership, this led to Maoism, the Great Leap Forward that resulted in the world's largest famine (with a death toll of 45 million), and the Cultural Revolution. 

Chairman Mao's Little Red Book is one of the most printed books in history.

Prior to this year, I knew very little about the communist revolution in China. I educated myself about it over the year, and I'll admit I found it difficult to read about the immensity of the suffering that has been inflicted and endured. I also considered it important for the girls to learn about this, not only to better understand China, but to encourage critical thinking about propaganda, groupthink and the true meaning of freedom. To better appreciate the vital importance of empathy, compassion, and personal responsibility.

The following books are my recommendations, for a range of ages, to learn a bit more about this tumultuous time.

World History Biographies: Mao Zedong: The Rebel Who Led a Revolution (National Geographic World History Biographies)

This is an excellent, colorful, easy to read, engaging and informative book. As well as learning about his life, including his family and childhood, this book is a great overview of the changing political climate over his lifetime, communism, and the communist revolution. It also includes two page features about the Long March and the Cultural Revolution. Have I mentioned this is an excellent overview?

Red Kite, Blue Kite by Ji-Li Jiang
This is a beautifully illustrated story about a young boy and his father, who love to fly kites together. When "bad times come" and they are separated, it is through their kites that they remain connected. Told from the perspective of the young boy, this is a story about the love and connection between father and son with allusions to the Cultural Revolution. Both of the girls were very moved by this story. This book is recommended for ages 5+, and could be enjoyed on its own or used as a poignant way to introduce the subject of the Cultural Revolution.

Mao and Me by Chen Jiang Hong
This is an autobiographical account of a young boy's experiences growing up during the Cultural Revolution. The story is told from the child's viewpoint, and is told from the illustrations as much as the narrative. The book is very straightforward - it's a memoir, more than a flowing story - and is a great depiction of the times. This book is better suited to grade 4 and up, as it does get dark representing the author's experiences. 

Red Land Yellow River: A Story from the Cultural Revolution by Ange Zhang
This book is another autobiographical account, though the author is 13 years old when the Cultural Revolution begins. Along with illustrations and family photographs, the author recounts his family's experience from being revered to outcasts, his desire to join the red guard, his work on propaganda posters, and his "re-education" laboring on a farm. The illustrations in this book bring the emotions -fear, anger, alienation, humiliation - to life. It is a moving account, relaying all the different feelings growing up in such an atmosphere can bring. This book is better suited to older children.

Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine
This book is not a picture book, but a novel based on the author's experiences growing up during the Cultural Revolution. This story is written from a nine year old young girl's point of view who doesn't understand what is happening around her as her family becomes a target during the revolution. The hardships she, her family and her community endure are moving, but not without the realities of the brutalities experienced. This book is recommended for ages 10 and up, but I felt it was too much for Elle (11). Pea and I thought it was really well written.

Little White Duck: A Childhood in China (Single Titles) by Na Liu.

This book is actually set shortly after Mao's death. In the graphic novel style, this book is about the authors childhood told through eight short stories. In this book, we learned a bit more those helped by Mao's changes, and the effect his death had on them. It was a different perspective from the other books we'd read, admittedly set after the Cultural Revolution. Still, interesting to read about a time that straddles communist China and modern China. 

Books are a wonderful way to experience new worlds and ideas. Our house is filled with books, most of which are borrowed from our public library. Public libraries are an incredible resource, making books accessible to everyone, and we highly encourage everyone to discover theirs. If you are hoping to build your own home library, I've made it easy by linking book titles to Amazon.com. Please note that I have become affiliated with them, which means that if you make a purchase, you are also supporting this website. 
I've linked up this post to this great blog hop of reviews for Children's books the Kid Lit Blog Hop
Kid Lit Blog Hop 


  1. As you know we only covered ancient China, so I know little about the revolution. We will definitely be studying it again as we meet it again in our studies. All very interesting.

    1. I found it tricky to decide how much about this to cover - it's difficult to knowing what people are willing to do to each other... the knowledge is something I struggle with at times.

  2. Thank you Marie for tackling such a sensitive topic with grace. I have seen Red Kite Blue Kite reviewed and it sounds wonderful and profound in its message. Little White Duck also looks so interesting. Thanks for joining us again on the Kid Lit Blog Hop

    1. Thank you Julie - Red Kit Blue Kite is truly a beautiful book. I hope you get the chance to enjoy it.

  3. I have to admit that I have not done much reading about China's Cultural Revolution - that is a mind-boggling death toll. We have a large Chinese community in Vancouver and in my neighborhood in particular. I would to read some of these books to my children. Thanks so much for sharing your post in the Kid Lit Blog Hop.

    1. I think generally in the West, many know little about the period. It isn't something that comes up in school, so that it has to come from a personal interest.

  4. I am very interested to check out these books. An interesting fact about my family is that my grandfather was a Soviet military adviser in China in the early 50s, he was even awarded one of their highest military awards of the time. He had a picture of Mao Zedung giving him this award :)

    1. How interesting... the things he must have seen being in the Soviet military!


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